What is art block and how to fix it

Art block is a common experience among artists where they struggle with inspiration, motivation, and creativity. It can be frustrating and disheartening, but there are ways to overcome it.

If you’re reading this, it’s because you’re a creative person! You probably love art and feel a pull to create and paint. And yet so many of us – myself included! – often struggle to pick up a paintbrush.

It’s so frustrating isn’t it? Some call it ‘art block’ and for a long time, I was full of excuses. Wanna hear mine? Too busy, too tired. I really ought to be doing laundry, all my supplies are packed away and getting them out is a hassle. I’m not feeling inspired, I don’t know what to paint. I’m just not feeling it. Not today.

We’ve all been there and thought these things. But you know what’s really going on here?

how to tackle art block

What is art block?

Art block is like a painter’s version of writer’s block. It’s when a creative person doesn’t feel like they can create right now. They feel like they want to paint but find themselves making excuses. Nothing seems to come out they feel devoid of ideas or like they have no inspiration.

Art block is a natural part of the creative process and can be caused by various factors such as stress, burnout, self-doubt, or a lack of inspiration. It’s a normal part of being an artist and everyone experiences it at some point.

Art block is often temporary, but some artists and painters report it going on for a long time.

What causes art block?

Everyone has their theories about this. I’m sure that all of the causes of art block are extremely personal and may be connected to issues like mental health. That’s not what I’m getting into here, but I’m sharing my experience with a lack of inspiration, what caused it for me and how I overcame it.

When I went through periods of feeling ‘art blocked’, it would drive me crazy! Where had my ideas or drive gone? Was I a rubbish artist? I’m sharing this story because I know many othet watercolour beginners out there may be feeling the same.

starting painting to stop art block

I’m absolutely certain that any art block I’ve ever experienced was caused by a fear. A crushing fear of failing. Fear of picking up a brush, painting a picture and hating it. 

Sometimes that fear is so paralysing that I used to spend hours thinking about painting, and then didn’t paint anything!

For much of my life I’ve been a world class procrastinator. There is no task so small simple and mundane that I can’t put it off. I’m trying to paint around a busy day job and I often found excuses or reasons why I couldn’t paint. I think I probably always knew, deep-down, that they were just excuses.

How do I stop art block?

The longer I’ve been painting, the less frequently I feel a sense of being blocked. I believe that two things happened as I got more experienced painting.

Firstly I got used to the idea that creativity and inspiration comes in waves it has a natural ebb and flow and it means that sometimes I just won’t feel a big pull towards painting. That’s OK, it doesn’t mean that creativity or inspiration has gone away. It just means I probably have too much on my plate. I’m too stressed or tired to be thinking about painting.

But the second solution through my art block has been to realise that it is psychological. I don’t have anything physically stopping me from painting. It was just something in my brain that was preventing me.

art equipment to tackle art block

Letting go of ‘perfectionism’

I’ve always been a perfectionist. And I used to think it was a strength. I used to think that it made the work that I produce great quality. I thought it made me good at my job and even good at painting.

But the truth is that being a perfectionist is simply a fear of being bad at something, and it’s so strong that at times I don’t even want to start. Even when I know I will enjoy the process, I can’t seem to get going.

Being able to describe my art block as perfectionism is the thing that helped me get over it and I hope this article will help you.

How to fix art block – my top tips

The most important thing to remember is that it’s just fear. It’s not a physical block, and there’s nothing wrong with you! It happens to so many creatives and it IS possible to overcome it.

Paint something simple

When art block strikes and inspiration seems low, I tried to limit what I’m painting. Perhaps I just focus on a simple composition or even painting shapes like circles or squares. It’s just enough to use my brush for 10 minutes and get me back into the flow of it.

simple paintings to stop art block

Use tutorials or classes

I also sometimes use tutorials by other artists or art classes to get my sense of creativity back. Seeing someone else’s creative process inspires me so much and it’s a great way to learn new techniques. You can even try it in different mediums – I took up cyanotypes when I was struggling with water colour and I love taking life drawing classes when I don’t feel like painting.

Create with other people

Collaborating with other artists can help generate new ideas and inspiration. Sometimes, other people’s creativity can spark your own – their enthusiasm is contagious! Join a local art group or attend a workshop to meet and collaborate with other artists.

Make a big old mess!

Sometimes I give myself permission to make a mess. I grab household objects, bits of old paper, and salt, and throw everything at the watercolour paper. Often it makes something truly ugly but that’s the point of this type of painting – you’re not making a piece of art, you’re making a mess. Imagine a child just splashing around and throwing colours about – the trick is just to create something everyday even if it’s not very good.

make an ugly painting to stop art block

Accept you’ll be bad at painting today

Give yourself permission to be bad – you’re learning a new skill and you’re going to have moments where you fail. Find a mantra that resonates with you. Even if this is bad it’s still creative, even if it’s ugly it’s better than not painting anything. Everyone is bad when they start out! Tell yourself whatever it is that you need to hear that resonates with you.

Use a little discipline too

If that’s not working, one thing that really worked for me was being disciplined. Schedule some time in your calendar for painting then force yourself to sit down at your desk. No excuses, no sudden desire to do laundry. Paint just 5 minutes – it’ll probably feel horrible and you won’t enjoy it and the painting will probably be rubbish, but at least you will have started. The first hurdle is always the hardest.

Setting achievable goals can help provide motivation and structure. Try setting a weekly or monthly goal for your creativity, such as completing one small project each week.

In short, the best way to resolve art block is a combination of being kind to yourself and being firm with yourself. Only you will know what you need each day and how that’s different, but it helps to get comfortable with the idea that this is partly in your head and you can fix it.

Then grab your supplies and try one of these tactics to get painting again!

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